Chrystia Freeland’s comments on African independence are toxically patriotic and historically ignorant 

Photo by: Hanna Moris

Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland’s comments on African independence were both revealing and historically ignorant. 

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland recently gave a speech in Washington, DC. where during the question period an unidentified member of the African Development Bank shared concerns that Canada’s financial aid to Ukraine was more proof of a broad message from the west that Africa will not receive needed financial aid anymore because of the war.

The anonymous man pointed out that Russia has been creating strategic alliances in West Africa for some time now, making the messaging of western countries that are pulling resources out of Africa to backstop Ukraine against Russia contradictory in a roundabout way. Essentially, by pulling resources from Africa, Russian cooperation over parts of Africa is only going to be enhanced. Desperate African countries need resources and capital to fight poverty which is already up three per cent in West Africa due to COVID-19 alone

Freeland responded by, in her words, “gently interrogating” the man’s concern of African backsliding,

“One of the profound lessons, I think, of the war in Ukraine is (my emphasis) democracy can only be built by people themselves, for themselves. And a democracy can only be defended by people themselves if they are actually prepared to die for their democracy. And I think that’s something Volodymyr Zelensky understood from day one.” 

This statement is revealing because it has a familiar aura of jingoist global factionalism that once dominated cold war rhetoric. Freeland is essentially saying, either you can fight for democracy yourselves, and if you get swallowed by Russia’s strategic ties to West African countries, you chose autocracy regardless of what western countries are doing. This continues a trend of Africa being a proxy zone for ostensible global ideological battles — in this case western liberal democracies versus the eastern autocratic rule of China and Russia — in what is increasingly looking like a soft cold war in the Ukraine-Russia conflict. 

On top of that, the statement is also historically ignorant of the European colonial projects in Africa that took place in the late 19th to early 20th century which devastated its chances for the next century of creating functional democracies for itself. Something that was most palpably felt by Africans with the west’s crucial role in the assassinating of the Congo’s first democratically elected leader, Patrice Lumumba, of whom the Soviet Union was supportive, contrary to the US and Belgium. 

The Scramble for Africa saw European control of African territory jump from 10 per cent in 1870 to nearly 90 per cent by 1914. African poverty, famine, flooding and the failure of any durable form of Pan-Africanism is and has been a result of colonialism and the kind of ideological proxy wars of the past that are on display again today in African countries.

Freeland has since apologized for offending anyone with her comments and hinted that African aid may be part of upcoming humanitarian budgets while also stating Canada needs to continue to help the global south. 

Still, this kind of wartime national fervour is concerning. 

The author of the lauded The End of History and the Last Man, Francis Fukuyama, recently wrote a piece in the Atlantic about how current global issues such as the Ukraine-Russia war are proof of his theory that humanity has peaked with liberal democracy. In this piece, he broadly divides the world into a contention between the liberal democratic west and the autocratic east. 

His critique, however, is dismissive altogether of the failures going on in liberal democracies around the world. For example, France is currently seeing a nation-wide strike against inflation

When presented with a dichotomy that doesn’t seem to address certain root issues; namely big oil’s global lobbying efforts, capitalists exploiting supply chain disruptions and the new forms of primitive accumulation taking place in Africa—then this dichotomy must be rejected outright in the name of alternative solutions. 

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